Is it me or are injuries in sport taking centre stage at the moment. Rugby League is no different than football in that terrible injuries are happening to players and, like poor Eduardo, some injuries in our game have ended players’ seasons before they’ve even got started. At the beginning of the campaign I thought that Warrington would have put their injury nightmare of 2007 behind them (but just like most of my last set of predictions, I was wrong). Although not as serious as the last crisis you must wonder what Paul Cullen does to deserve this type of treatment from the rugby league gods.
Yet isn’t it amazing that although various teams in league have struggled with injuries, one of the only ones not to have a major crisis (or anything near that) is Leeds Rhinos. I’m not sure how state-of-the-art their treatment room is and I would assume none of their players do either. It’s a credit to both conditioning coaches and physios at what I believe could become one of rugby’s biggest clubs of all time (and that’s including all the union clubs too).
Good luck to them in the World Club Challenge on Friday night. I predict without their best players, Melbourne could be on the end of a hammering if Leeds turn up at their best. We should take note of this game to show the Aussies and Kiwis just how much of a threat England will be in the World Cup at the end of the year – good luck Leeds.
As much as getting one over the Aussies appeals to me, I have something better to do on Friday night and that’s watch Oldham v Rochdale Hornets. Whilst some sections of the broadcast media couldn’t give a toss about Northern Rail Cup games (or letting anyone else show them for that matter) I will be with Channel M at Boundary Park to watch what is always a compelling derby clash.
And how much confidence will Oldham take into that game? Quite a lot I’d say. And so they should, because in all honesty they deserved their win over Salford at the weekend and I think we will now see the best of Steve Deakin’s charges for the rest of the season.
The half-back partnership between James Coyle and Neil Roden is what Salford should be looking at. Although I’m sure Robbie Paul will give them some guidance around the field when he comes back, I just wonder if Shaun McRae hasn’t planned as well for not having him around. John Wilshire is a fine player and tremendous athlete, but is never a stand-off. If Robbie Paul’s injury flares up again and the Reds are without him for another significant amount of time, I think Salford could have a major problem in that position. As good prospects as Stefan Ratchford and Richard Myler are, they need guidance and Shaun needs a leader on the pitch before the league season kicks off.
Good for Swinton too, to get their first win of the season, which their efforts over the past few games have deserved and I’m sure they will be a threat come the start of the NL season.
I do wonder though when Bobbie Goulding will get a decent referee. The 2 officials in the Swinton games haven’t been fit and couldn’t keep up with speed of the game. I know it’s early days and I don’t want to get on referees’ backs already, but the standard so far in the lower divisions Cup comp hasn’t been good from what I’ve seen, and I hope it improves soon.
Leigh are going about their business fairly quietly so far, although you’d think two wins over Widnes would get them some notoriety. Great crowd too, over 3 and a half thousand at Hilton Park for a cracking game of rugby. And seen as how I mentioned the word cracking, I couldn’t leave out Ian Watson’s jaw. The fact that some Widnes callers came on Radio Manchester and tried to say it wasn’t that bad, is a bit of a joke. I saw it (and heard it) with my own eyes (I wasn’t watching it with black and white glasses on however).
Some players are showing what they are capable of early on and Lee “tuna” Doran is one of them. Having seen his abilities blossom for the last 6 years I think it’s time that one or two Super League clubs took a look at him. He’s a great athlete with bundles of talent and would be as good an addition to any Super League side than a cheap import.
It should be a good week in prospect with two local derby’s again on the agenda, but no surprises in store this week, I think. Oldham and Salford should come out on top, but Leigh could have a nice battle with Barrow up in Cumbria.
Wigan should triumph over Bradford at the JJB – I’ve not seen anything from Bradford yet to go with the hype and I still think they’ll struggle to make the 6.
As the title suggests the big guns of rugby league all made their
starts (with the exception of Leeds and Hull KR of course) to the Super
League season and there were headlines in all the games played at the
weekend. When watching last week's Headingley opener I never had that
feeling that we were quite up and running yet, but having watched a
full weekend rugby league card I know feel that it’s all systems go in
the greatest game of all.
Headlines were made in all the Super League games and I was privileged
to be watching one of them. Warrington v Hull FC was a marvellous
match and considering the amount of injuries Hull had they put up a
hell of a fight. Very impressed with Craig Hall, not just for his two
tries but for an excellent defensive display against two of the world's
best centres in Matt King and Martin Gleeson, considering he asked
especially for chance to play against King he performed outstandingly
well and gave the big fella little space in which to show his undoubted
talents. Another Hull player who caught the eye was 17 year-old Tom
Briscoe who, for 25 minutes, marked King out of the game and looked
solid when in possession - a bright future in store for that young man.
A great game however was somewhat marred by crowd trouble after the
game and the referee having objects thrown at him during the game. Most
of the bad press seems to be aimed at the Hull crowd and to be honest
I’m not entirely surprised. Crowd trouble in rugby league is minimal at
best, but when it rears its ugly head, the name Hull does tend to be at
the centre of the story, weather it be FC or KR. But at the same time
I’m not sure you can call these people supporters anyway. Just a bunch
of idiots who have obviously been barred from the football club and
thought they’d cause trouble at a rugby league game.
But the game was brilliant. An early contender for try of the season on
day 1 with Kevin Penny and Matt King taking the plaudits, but the brain
work was done by Michael Monaghan and now is about the time I’m going
to stick my neck on the line. From what I have seen of this man in
pre-season and in the opening round, Monaghan is nothing but class. The
complete Half-Back who never misses a tackle and has a passing and
kicking game to rival the world's best. Combine that with his ability
to organise his team and you have got this year's Man Of Steel. All my
other predictions are 50/50 shots but this call for me is solid gold.
I’ve not been as instantly impressed with any player for years and if I
had to make a comparison to a past great, I guess it would have to be
Shaun Edwards. Edwards is still to this day my all-time favourite
player and sporting idol, and comparing Monaghan to him is a sign of
how highly I rate what I think will be Warrington’s best signing for
many years to come.
The other big headline for me was made at the Galpharm Stadium, as over
15,500 fans saw champions Leeds beat Huddersfield. Considering that the
Giants average attendance last year was just over 7,000 and last year's
corresponding fixture drew just over 10,200 this represents a massive
leap forward for the club that I always thought of as Super League's
(no pun intended) sleeping Giants. Just a pity that the result didn’t
quite go according to plan.Having had a game under their belts my prediction of Hull KR beating
Saints came true even though it was in dubious circumstances, and
Wakefield overcame the Bulls who I also believe (unlike many other
journalists and pundits) will not make the play-offs this season. It’s
a transitional period for Bradford and even though they have an array
of good pro’s and one or two exceptionally talented players I think
there are other teams in the league that have more to offer and will
get in the 6 before them.
Wigan winning at Harlequins is a result that everyone saw coming, even
though it was in doubt for an hour of the game. Great travelling
support from the Warriors too, giving Quins a record attendance at the
Stoop and Harrison Hansen’s performance seems to indicate that he will
fulfil his potential this season.
And Castleford's re-entry into Super League went as I thought it would,
losing narrowly to the French - and in reply to Trevor Hunt’s comments
about wanting to have a weekend away in Castleford, there are many
lovely ladies and pubs in Cas-Vegas, which makes it a great weekend for
the fellas. But I do see your point if you’re French, plus I don’t
think EasyJet fly to Castleford.
In the Northern Rail Cup I took in the delights of Swinton v Rochdale
Hornets. A decent game to watch, which Swinton for the second week in a
row should have won and didn’t. It was the same story for Paul Kidd’s
team, having worked their way into lead and looking good, a lack of
concentration let their opponents steal a win in the dying stages. But
I, as well as the two coaches, was far from impressed with referee Mr
Halloran. It was quiet obvious that he hasn’t been keeping himself fit
in the off-season, as he couldn’t keep up with what looked to me like a
moderately paced game. If he’d have been refereeing a top flight game
he would have been taken off after 20 minutes; towards the end of both
halves he lost control of the game and made some bad decisions that
affected both teams probably due to his lack of fitness. Even though
Bobbie Goulding and Paul Kidd will be disappointed at the way they
played, there are still positives for both to take in regards to their
players. Martin Ainscough and Sam Butterworth shone for Hornets whist I
was impressed with Lions stand-off Richard Hawkyard, a player who looks
like he will be playing well below his level in NL2. I have to think
that with Phil Wood in the Lions line-up they will be a tough test for
any team in that division this season, and would expect him to back in
the saddle for the Salford game on Sunday.
A great 40 minute effort from Oldham put Salford on the ropes until the
Reds' professionalism gave them the spoils in front of a tremendous
4,000 plus crowd at the Willows - it was a better crowd than some of
their Super League efforts last season (Well done to the Salford and
Oldham public for turning up in great numbers). A player who is
catching my eye at the moment is James Jimenez who’s performance on
Friday is just a taster of things to come in the league, I feel. For a
player not used to playing centre until the opening game at Rochdale
last week, Shaun McCrae certainly has him looking the part (his talent
may also have something to do with that one thinks). Plenty for Steve
Deakin to be proud of though; his fake leather jacket and singing
antics on my microphone at Swinton on Sunday aren't among them however.
If he starts wearing his pants like Simon Cowell or starts making Fonz
imitations I’ll start to worry (He knows what I mean, as does Bobbie
I think a few people will know just how good Widnes are going to be
after they were beaten by Leigh. A good effort by Darren Shaw’s men and
a victory he will be very happy with after a low scoring game. But this
for me just shows where Widnes are in the scheme of things this season.
Last year that would have probably been a runaway Vikings victory in
the end but even though the facilities at the Stobart Stadium Halton
have had lots of money spent on it, it maybe time to put some money
back into the team, if they’re going to claw back that 9 points deficit
come the league campaign. Leigh can be majorly encouraged by the result
and I can see them easily finishing in the top 3 this season, should
the talent perform to the best of their ability.
A great week in prospect with two derby games in the Northern Rail Cup
and Wigan have their first home outing of the season against our
friends from the Jungle. Rochdale v Oldham is always a tasty fixture
and I can’t wait for Swinton and Salford to lock horns. The first time
in 5 years that the teams will do battle, bring it on.
In Super League I expect Warrington to beat Saints, which may shock
some people, but it wouldn’t shock me at all.
Wigan to beat Cas easily and Wakefield to get edged out by Leeds; I
think Bradford may just pip Huddersfield at Odsal and reckon Catalan
will beat Hull
KR, whilst next door neighbours Hull FC will out-work Harlequins and
get through on home soil.
As far as our derby games go Salford should easily get past the Lions
and Oldham I think will just beat Hornets, even though it will be
close. I get the feeling Alan Rowley will be building sandcastles to
keep himself entertained as I’ve no doubt a slaughter of the Panthers
at Blackpool will be complete by the time the team coach pulls into the
Enjoy your rugby league this weekend. I always do.
Well, if you weren’t ready then I have little sympathy with you. We told you it was coming and it’s not as if nobody else knew. Rugby League is officially back in action, as are we at Channel M. Although we have been very busy in the last few weeks it’s great to have the Northern Rail Cup and Super League back for the new season.
I hope everyone has enjoyed our pre-season friendlies (sorry …. Trial games) that we have broadcast over the last month. The feedback has been phenomenal from all that watched it and thank you very much for all your comments regarding our coverage.
But if you think that was good, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Make sure that at 7pm every Wednesday that your diary is free and that you have plenty of grub in the fridge and water in the kettle. Code 13 is back better than ever and is yet again going to be the programme to watch for ALL rugby league supporters.
And what a weekend we’ve had to kick us off. Oldham and Swinton was a cracker of a game on Friday and the other local derby was also a great game despite the lop-sided score line, and less I forget Leigh coming up with the goods against a Barrow side who I have no doubts will again be one of the front runners in NL2.
My commentary game this week comes from Spotland where the 2 relegated teams from our region last season faced each other. I have strong ties with both clubs with my family supporting the Hornets for nearly 80 years in all and myself attending Salford University was involved with the Reds for at lot of my time at that fine establishment. From my point of view it was a tremendous game to watch and even though the scoreline didn’t reflect it, both sides played very well for a first day hit-out. Salford’s full time status was always going to tell but I can’t stress enough how well Bobbie Goulding’s boys played.
Having watched Hornets for most of last season I can tell you that it wasn’t a pleasant experience to say the least. Most of, if not all past Hornets teams that I’ve seen over my 25 years have at least had the decency to put in some effort and endeavour, however there were some (ok ….. a lot) of them that looked as though they didn’t give a toss about the shirt they were playing for and that to Hornets fans is totally unacceptable. The minimum that any club should expect from its players is total commitment and enthusiasm on the game day at least, it’s not like Hornets fans expect you to win every game, but you can at least look interested and put a bit of effort in to it. I can honestly say that that will never happen under Bobbie. The minimum he expects from his players (regardless of how much you’re getting paid) is 100% effort and enthusiasm and that’ll do nicely for Hornets supporters.
Having watch last years Castleford humiliation on TV last year, I went to the Salford game hoping that this team could at least play with some pride and that was never in doubt. It goes without saying that the Reds were the better team but Hornets played their part in the game and the Salford fans recognised that too. The work effort from guys like Andrew Marsh and Jim Elston who never stopped working in their stints on the pitch were fantastic. But if you’re talking work ethic then look no further than Malcolm Alker. He truly is the Iron Man of rugby league. He was running as hard in the last minute as he was in the first and never stopped tackling regardless of his position. Even this early on I think he will win the NL Player of the Season award - how’s that for sticking my neck on the line.
Both coaches were happy with the game. It was Shaun McCrae’s first experience in the Northern Rail Cup and he was happy with most aspects of the Reds game, with one or two areas in which they can improve on for the Oldham fixture on Friday. Nice to see he had time not just to sign an autograph for a young Hornets supporter but also had time to talk to the kid - that’s the kind of bloke he is and even comes prepared with a piece of white paper if ever our camera men need a white balance.
In Bobbie’s words, “we gave it a go” - which is a more than accurate quote. Bit disappointed with the “Men against Boys” quote though because from my point of view it was harsh to refer to his side as boys. There’s no disputing Salford were bigger, faster and stronger than Hornets but if I think if I was a Rochdale player I’d be slightly disappointed with that. But I can see where he was coming from; I just think it would have been better to use another cliché.
Another thing I’m disappointed at, was the match reports on both Reds.co.uk and RochdaleHornets.com. The Salford page seems to indicate a complete roll over and a complete no contest. Yes, the result was never really in doubt but never in my opinion did they “run Hornets ragged”. And maybe a bit more research is needed by this reporter who referred to the Hornets as “Dale”. He probably doesn’t know any better but any Hornets’ fan who reads that will be spitting chips as no one at the rugby club wants any resemblance made to its football counter parts. That is the football club's nickname and the less said about the rugby and football club’s relationship (especially among the fans) the better. Having said that you can almost forgive slight bias like this as it is their website after all, but I did find the Hornets website report unacceptable as a rugby league supporter. It was a bitter and twisted description of both Salford City Reds as a club and its supporters. A 3 paragraph rant at the start of this so called piece of journalism was totally uncalled for. Referring to Reds fans as “arrogant, graceless and bitter” to the fact that they are in NL1 and to call the Reds as a club of “Big Time Charlie’s” is grossly unfair to what in my experience both as a journalist - and more importantly as a supporter - is a great set of people behind the scenes and a set of supporters who would be the envy of most clubs for their loyalty in the face of adversity. For 1,000 fans to turn up in support of a relegated club away from home is a credit to them, and to be labelled as that is very unfair - to say I’m disappointed in the article is an understatement. Fully understanding the situation at Rochdale the club needs as many fans turning up on the day is it can, regardless of which team they support. If reports like this are going to label supporters of opposing teams like that, the chances are those supporters won’t ever want to come back should they meet again in the future. And if you take those 1,000 supporters away from the day's attendance, it would look like a very poor crowd indeed.
It somewhat has taken the gloss off what I thought was a great game between two fully committed sides and their supporters.
But thankfully the game of rugby league is back for us all to admire and the players are treating us to a marvellous feast of action even after only one week.
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